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The importance of family has been prevalent in this past week.  We headed to Indiana for Father’s Day weekend and had a whirlwind couple of days FULL of family.

We started our trip Thursday and headed to Uncle Dick’s in Merrillville, Indiana.

This is my beloved octogenarian Uncle who builds models, winters in Florida and can fix absolutely anything.  He and my Aunt Dee, now on the other side, have been such an instrumental part of my life in so many ways.  From the parties of my youth on our LONG trips to Indiana, to helping me get my first job, to all those family dinners, to now being a favorite landing pad in Indiana, it’s so good to contemplate the support they’ve given.  The drive from his place is a bearable 9 hours or so and it’s always a joy to hear his stories and, usually, share a meal with the cousins as well.  Dawn and Jim have the house next door to him (an amazing old Mafia mansion) and that is the family gathering place. Karen and all her family sometimes join us too.

From Dickie’s, we headed south to Fran and Ed’s and had some barbeque lunch.  This visit was a bit harder as we realize our dear Ed is still struggling with recovery from recent surgery.  He too has been so instrumental in my last couple decades that it’s hard to imagine life without him.  For now, we’re enjoying every minute we can.  I know that eventually we lose all our loved ones, but it’s still tough when facing the possible imminence of it all.  I am hopeful he’ll perk up but I was grateful to have been able to present him with a Father’s Day poem capturing many of the wonderful memories we’ve made through the years.  It was a bittersweet visit.  Our biggest topic of discussion of late has been The Boy… but we’ll get there.

Steve and Rook ended up meeting us at Fran and Ed’s for a quick visit and then we all headed off to meet Steph for dinner at that wonderful restaurant I discovered on my last visit to Indiana, El Sabor Catracho.  They have the most delicious Honduran food!  Their Papusas are my new favorite thing.  You can see my Yelp Review here: https://www.yelp.com/biz/el-sabor-catracho-indianapolis?hrid=0pw8XrO5J8Lhdyl-DGZTjQ

We headed to Steph and Steve’s for the night and the next morning were helping them move a little furniture and organize in their new house.  It was a thrill to see Rookie with his Swiffer – he’s a keeper!  🙂 And our boy Studley is doing so much better now that he’s settled in his new place.

We headed back by Fran and Ed’s for another hug and kiss or two and then up to our friends’ 50th birthday party in Lafayette.  J-Pop and Ronnie Bob turned 50 this month and had a HUGE gathering to celebrate.  Jacqueline aka J-Pop (her “Jersey” name – don’t you love FB?) used to work with me at SDI and we were like peas in a pod and keep in touch still.  It’s so nice when co-workers become “family”.  We were able to also spend a bit of time with a few old co-workers of mine and friends Beth and Rick & Carla who we met through Jacqueline.  New friends Stephanie and Billy were a hoot, as was Greg/Fred.  The old friends are all looking younger than ever, though Jacqueline and Ron were fighting injuries that were making them feel all of their 50 years.

Sunday was the main reason for our trip.

Danny’s Mom’s family has a tradition of celebrating with a family reunion on Father’s Day each year.  We attended several of them in the years we lived in central Indiana and his relations always made Tom and me feel like we had been there all along.  Melvin and Maxine, Dale and Mary, Kim and Annette, Wayne when he was around, Charmy pulling me under her wing, Dave chatting Tom up about Purdue… well, just everyone snuggled us into the family in such a loving way.  This year was the 100th Annual Black Family Reunion and we’d had it on our calendar to attend for 2 years as it was also to be the final reunion.  Families had spread out, grown into other things, and the recent reunions had dwindled to a handful or two of mostly the older folks.  But this one last time, we were going to get together and celebrate the giant family that originated with Charles and Lottie Black.  Danny’s Mom was a Black and his dad used to go back home to Arkansas and tell all his friends that he’d gone to Indiana and married a Black girl.  His uncle Kenny, when we met him in Las Vegas years back, would joke that he’d get pulled over by the police because they were always “picking on a Black man”.  And when I tell people I’m going to Danny’s Black Family Reunion, I always get a second glance.  I’m happy to be a part of the Black Family and I am pretty sure we also have some black in our family.  I’m especially proud of that.  One of my favorite old photos is of a store in Crawfordsville, Indiana that a forefather of mine owned and it had a sign out front noting “Colored” being welcome, which at that time was a real controversy.  I am glad my family was on the right side of it… inclusion.

The 100th Annual Black Family Reunion was much the same as its predecessors in that we had the long table of food with several noodle dishes, mashed potatoes, salads & sandwiches, and loads of desserts.  (Thanks for Jacqueline for saving my bacon on bringing a dish to share!)  Charmy had brought multiple dozens of the sugar cookies Grandma Black used to make and I hear they were delish. Someone had also arranged to have a big bowl of the pink candies that Grandpa Black used to always have in his pocket for you.  They still make them!  And Mary provided ice cream for all so that was a nice cool treat on what turned out to be a scorcher.  We’d rented the air-conditioned building instead of our normal open-air barn and that turned out to be a brilliant idea!  We also had some new things like old Super 8 video that had been converted to DVD and was playing throughout the day; the wedding dress and suit Charles and Lottie had worn, even his bowler and cane (and you wouldn’t believe the weight of that suit!); old family photos and some chalk paintings Grandma Lottie had done for all her kids & grandkids; and a big family tree where everyone could put their leaves to show the family members in attendance for each of the Black kids.  Olive was at the top as she’d not had children but each of the other eight branches had someone representing.  Lottie and Kenneth at the top had the fewest with 2 and 4, respectively.  [Dan is part of Kenneth’s line and besides us, I believe it’s just Brenda (Kenny’s wife) and her son Keb and his family.  There are some kids of Jack’s too but I don’t know if anyone knows who or where they are these days. Jack was kind of the black sheep, so to speak, and a bit of a player.  Always wish I’d had a chance to meet him but he was gone before my time.  The only member of Dan’s immediate family that I got the chance to meet was his dad, Earnest.  But he’s been gone for going on a decade now.]  Vera had 11, Marie had 13, Iona had 15, while the big three were Ethel (27), Charles T. (28), and Madge (39).  Tom and Celia were there with us and she made quite the impression on Dale ~ Danny said she was charming his socks off!  We were able to see Danny’s Mom and a couple shots of his brother and went home with a couple rare old photos.

From the Reunion, we headed over to the Flora Cemetery to see the many family graves.  This is where Dan’s family headstones are, though his won’t be among them.  There is so much history in this little graveyard.  So many old stories.  Dan shares a few with me.

Then we head to Tom’s apartment for a discussion on how his job search is progressing.  It was good to have some time to talk with him and Celia.  Each visit I get a bit more time with her and she’s turning out to be quite impressive.  It’s obvious she is adorable and sweet when you first meet her but taking time to hear her logical arguments and accurate perspectives makes you realize this isn’t just some cutie pie but a very intelligent and thoughtful woman he’s found.  I am very happy that they have each other as they make this transition into adulthood.  Leaving college for the world of work is a major life change and I’m hopeful they will complete this transition with as much success as they have had thus far along their paths.  It was really impressive reading the letter of recommendation Tom received from the CGT Department Head.  He was an exemplary student and a major help to their department.  I am so proud.

We headed North back to Dickie’s for the evening and, when we called with an ETA, he said to come to Dawn’s.  We did as we were told, even though driving past his house we noted the garage light at the last moment indicating we’d probably just missed him coming home and would not find him at Dawn’s.  It was good to see her and Jim and have a few minutes to talk.  With all that we had gone through this weekend, having a talk with my (very slightly) older relation gave me a chance for some feedback and perspective.  She also shared a story I’d forgotten… about her bringing Gramma to our place in Ohio when I was young.  She’d taken Rob and me to the amusement park and given Gramma an opportunity to see us that she wouldn’t have had.  Grandpa had died early, likely from workplace exposure to toxins, when my dad was still a teen. Gramma was always old in my mind but looking back I can see that she wasn’t as old as I’d thought when I was a kid.  She definitely grew older over the years and I remember watching her grow more frail.  I was living near her in Northwest Indiana at her life’s end and was able to visit her at the nursing home and have some time with her.  I was in the hospital with her the day she passed.  Not the moment she passed, though Dawn and Karen and Dick and Dee all were as I recall.  But the day.  I remember her being incoherent that last day while I was there in her hospital room.  My entire visit was spent talking with other family who were present.  But as I walked out that door to leave, clear as a bell she said, just like the old days, “Love ya’, Jay.”  I stutter-stepped at the door and called back, “I love you too, Gramma.”  But I didn’t go back and give her a kiss.  I have always regretted that.  Not taking that one last opportunity.  It was an important lesson… to listen to my gut when I feel like taking an opportunity to express myself with others… so I don’t miss a chance to let them know I love them.  To share the appreciation I have for them.  To let them know how they have made a difference to me.  I still miss opportunities today, but not nearly as often as I might.

Brother Rob even made it into the weekend as he texted me that he had received his birthday present in the mail from Mom and me.  🙂

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It’s amazing how full this trip was with Family.  We were able to see many but not all of our birth and chosen family and checked in with many we didn’t see in person.  And for us, it’s all Family.  Friends and Co-workers are just as much Family to us as the blood relations.  These people we love, whose stories we cherish, with whom we have made many memories… this is what life is all about.  Sharing love and life and happiness.  Supporting each other through troubles and pain and sadness.  Reveling in the joys and holding each other through the difficulties.  These are the people that make this trip around the universe worth every single minute.

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